4-H Military Family: Using books to help families face deployment

Children’s books provide a way for parents, caregivers and young children to learn about deployment and the many changes that happen.

Deployment can be a stressful time for families, especially young children. During deployment many changes are taking place within the family and young children may not be able to fully understand them. Many times, young children are unable to fully process what a deployment means and why their service member is gone. A great way to help explain deployment and give young children an idea of what to expect can be to use children’s books.

Children’s books provide a way for parents, caregivers and young children to learn about deployment and the many changes that happen during a deployment. By reading about other military families, children and situations, they will be able to recognize that they are not alone and that other families are having experiences and feelings that are similar to their own. Books also offer an opportunity for parents and caregivers to connect with their young child one-on-one and provide a special time to talk about how the family will adjust to the upcoming changes.

The 4-H Military Family Book Sheets help parents and guardians find books and activities to help their children during the various stages of their service members’ deployments. Each book sheet contains a summary of the book, author and publication details, and activities they can use with their children pre-, during or post-deployment to extend the message of the book. To find each book, check with your local library, bookstore or online retailer.

The book that we are highlighting in this article is “Love, Lizzie: Letters to a Military Mom.”

In Love, Lizzie: Letters to a Military Mom, 9-year-old Lizzie writes to her mother, who is deployed overseas during wartime. Besides Lizzie’s letters, the book includes her maps that illustrate what she’s been doing and thinking while mom is away.

Pre-deployment activities

  • Draw a map with your child of your neighborhood as Lizzie did in one of her letters. Include all the important places. Use a virtual map computer program to view your neighborhood from the sky.
  • As a family, pick out a star that your service member and family members can look up at while your service member is gone. Draw two maps of the star’s location. Keep one map to display in the house and give one to your service member to have while deployed. Then family members and the service member can look up at the same star in the sky even though you are far apart.

During-deployment activities

  • Draw maps with pictures of trips that you take together as a family and send them to your service member. Include simple trips to the grocery store or to a park, or vacations that you take. Use the map that Lizzie drew of her soccer trip as an example.
  • Make a special “hidey hole” in your house that your child can use when he or she needs some alone time. Place comfortable pillows and blankets in the hidey hole, and post pictures of your service member there to keep the child company.
  • Fill a small photo album with pictures of everyday activities such as ball practice or a visit with Grandma to send to your service member. Help your child make captions for the photos.

Post-deployment activities

  • As a family, draw a map of where your service member was deployed. Include general locations such as the meal tent or the place he or she slept.
  • Make a picture list of all the things that your family will do with your service member such as get ice cream, look at pictures, watch a movie or play outside. Check them off as the family participates in them.
  • Make an activity box. On small strips of paper, have family members write down free activities that they’d like the family to do such as ride bikes or participate in game night. Put the strips of paper in the box and have a family member choose one for family time.

If you are looking for more articles about deployment support, check out Finding Support for Children and Youth with Deployed Family Members for a helpful checklist on who might support your child or youth during your service member’s deployment and the Emotional Cycle of Deployment that explains each stage of the deployment cycle and gives helpful activities you can do to keep your family connected.. You can also find additional deployment support information on the Military OneSource website, the Operation: Military Kids website and the 4-H Military Partnerships website.

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